After all these years, Riviera holds its own against best


Doug Ferguson - AP Golf Writer



Doug Ferguson

AP Golf Writer

LOS ANGELES — The PGA Tour at Riviera is must-see TV for Lanny Wadkins because it’s personal.

The most prominent nickname for Riviera remains “Hogan’s Alley” from when Ben Hogan won three times in two years, capping it off with the 1948 U.S. Open. Wadkins, however, has his own slice of history on the fabled course off Sunset Boulevard.

“I do watch it every year because I have that record,” he said.

It’s a record that speaks to why Riviera, which George Thomas and William Bell designed 90 years ago, commands so much respect.

In an era where players are better and longer— and there are more of them than ever — no one has touched the 20-under 264 that Wadkins shot in 1985. That record has stood the longest of any PGA Tour course on the schedule.

No one has come particularly close in the last 25 years.

Mike Weir shot 267 in 2004. Steve Elkington also had a 267 in the 1995 PGA Championship in August, when the greens were so receptive that two players tied the major championship record of 63.

What is it about Riviera that a record could last that long?

“I can’t put my finger on it,” Weir said. “It seems like it has your attention on every shot to be on the correct side of the fairway, the correct spot beneath the hole.”

James Hahn won in a playoff at Riviera last year at 6-under 278. Told the scoring record, he wanted to know who shot it.

“Is he in the Hall of Fame?” he asked. “I think just off of that, he should be.”

Not to worry. Wadkins was inducted in 2009. He won 20 other times on the PGA Tour, including a PGA Championship at Pebble Beach.

Memories of that week remain clear for Wadkins.

He didn’t have to save par until the par-3 fourth hole in the third round. He never went for the green on the short par-4 10th. And he ran off four straight birdies around the turn. He won by seven shots and broke the tournament record by six.

Wadkins broke the course record by six shots; Gil Morgan in 1983 and Johnny Miller in 1981 each shot 270.

“It was probably my favorite golf course. I just saw shots around there,” he said. “I felt like I could walk out there and shoot 66. I was that confident playing the place.”

He opened with a 63, followed by rounds of 70 and 67 to seize control, and then set a target for the final round to keep his focus. He wanted to keep a 5 off his card on the last day, and he kept grinding to the end to make it happen.

This isn’t the same Riviera that Wadkins played in 1985, but few courses are. It’s now longer, notably to Nos. 9, 12, 15 and 18. Even so, the extra length has been minimal compared with some other courses.

“It’s just the challenge of the golf course,” Wadkins said. “It has small greens. And I got longer there than most weeks off the tee. I could chase the ball down the kikuyu fairways. If you hit it high, it would hit the grass and stop. I hit a bullet tee shot that turned over and got running. I grew up on small greens, and I worked the ball both ways, which you have to do there.”

The biggest change has been the conditioning. Riviera has become firmer and faster, the strongest defense against scoring.

“It is incredible,” Spieth said of the 31 years that a scoring record hasn’t been matched. “In that amount of time, the course has certainly played softer. It’s certainly played firmer. You’ve seen all the conditions, with that amount of time, it’s amazing it can hold. I don’t think it will be broken this week. If it is, that’s some incredible playing or they have done something with the pin positions that are different than normal.

“But it’s just so hard to keep the ball below the hole and it’s hard to make putts from above it out here.”

Hahn said Riviera stands the test of time because it can’t be overpowered, even though power hitters like Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson are recent winners.

“But the green factor, you’ll have a 5-footer and worry about how long your second putt is going to be,” Hahn said. “I don’t think there is any other golf course on tour where you have to think about your second putt.”

Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times was at Riviera the day Wadkins set the record.

“Listen, if you were too young to see the Chicago Bears beat the Washington Redskins, 73-0, don’t despair. Get a film of Lanny Wadkins beating Riviera Sunday and the rest of the week,” Murray wrote that day. “If you had to miss Dempsey knocking out Fred Fulton in 14 seconds, this will re-create that mood. … It wasn’t a match, it was a recital.”

And it’s a record that still stands.

Doug Ferguson

AP Golf Writer

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